3 founders share the self-care practices that strengthen their mental health and help them stay mindful

woman writing at home
Writing in a journal is one way founders can practice mindfulness.

  • When COVID cost him business, Isaac Rudansky looked back at his career successes to think more positively.
  • Altering your mindset can give you the confidence to push forward through difficult times.
  • Founders should also try identifying their emotions, seeking support, and taking time for themselves.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After only six weeks of working in his company’s newly purchased office space, Isaac Rudansky, founder and CEO of AdVenture Media Group, sent his employees home to avoid the spread of COVID-19. He lost 35% of his clients in the first three weeks of the pandemic. “I’m actually an optimistic person, but this was a really dark period,” he said. “Oftentimes, when you’re dealing with feelings of depression and stress, it’s impossible to look at a longer horizon.”

So rather than look forward, Rudansky looked back at the past five years. Even through the peaks and valleys, he saw that his life and career had trended in a positive direction. That perspective gave him the confidence to move forward.

As Eve Lewis Prieto, the director of meditation and a mindfulness teacher at Headspace, said, “one of the best things about mindfulness is that it can be applied to every area of your life. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully engaged and present with a soft and open mind, also known as paying attention on purpose.”

As we pass the one-year anniversary of the country entering lockdown, founders shared with Inc. some of the practices that strengthen their mental health and help them stay mindful.

1. Identify what you’re feeling

When she looked at the options to confront her anxiety and burnout as a software engineer, Meha Agrawal, CEO and founder of Silk and Sonder, felt intimidated by therapy and was bored by meditation. Instead, she found that writing was the outlet she needed.

“There are a ton of benefits of bringing pen to paper,” she said. “It alleviates anxiety and stress, and it helps increase IQ and memory. It’s proven to heal trauma.” Agrawal created a journaling routine back in 2017, and soon after, she began developing her subscription-based journal company to help customers emulate her experience with journaling.

Aaron Sternlicht, a therapist and cofounder of New York City-based Family Addiction Specialist, endorses writing as a way of tracking your emotional mood throughout the day. This practice can help you understand which activities and times of day spark more anxiety, he said. Once you can identify the trigger moments, you can better prepare yourself to respond.

2. Lean on other people

Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist based in Boston, notes that maintaining personal relationships is a constant challenge in a founder’s life. The pandemic has only worsened this, she said, spurring more mental health challenges for founders. In recognizing the importance of community, Agrawal created the Sonder club, an online community where Silk and Sonder users can connect on their wellness journey.

Talking with people can be the best outlet for maintaining your mental well-being, Rudansky said: “It allows a person to express sympathy and empathy for what you’re going through.”

A couple of months ago, he said, one of his executives reached out to him to express that he felt overwhelmed at work. Rather than showing weakness, it showed strength and character, Rudansky said. The two ended up on an hourlong phone call together where they both opened up about their feelings and current struggles.

3. Make time for yourself – and start small

Last month, Tori Farley, cofounder of Better Than Belts, a unisex suspender company, joined a book club and read “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown, which teaches readers how to reorient their mindsets and explores the psychology of authentic living. Farley was hesitant about reading a “quasi-self-help book,” but “When I read it, it just clicked,” she said. “If I want to spend two hours in the morning doing watercolor painting because that is going to make me feel happy for the rest of the day, then that’s what I should do, and I don’t have to start my day by checking my email.”

Even if it’s just a short moment in time, doing something for yourself can help you get out of a workday slump, Farley said. And Ficken adds that the all-or-nothing mentality can be extremely harmful to mental health. If you can’t get in your full workout that day, she said, don’t give up on physical activity. Instead, walk around the perimeter of your house for a little while or even take a few minutes to walk to your kitchen to get some cold water.

Headspace encourages users to start with just three to five minutes a day, Prieto said. “Some days the mind is going to feel really busy and on other days much quieter, so you are not doing anything wrong if you find that it’s taking longer for the mind to settle,” she said. The goal is not to empty the mind, but to be at ease with where you are.

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I was a type-A mom trying to ‘have it all,’ and I suffered a breakdown. Here are my 5 tips to help any working mom prioritize self-care on a daily basis.

working mom
Prioritizing alone time is key for working moms to de-stress.

  • Jessica Milicevic is the owner of Maven Media, a strategic branding and marketing agency in North Carolina.
  • She wrote a list of ways working moms can practice self-care without sacrificing too much time or money.
  • Disconnecting, enjoying quiet time, and practicing self-compassion are easy ways moms can prioritize their wellness.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The term self-care has become one of those buzzwords so overused by bloggers, marketers, and influencers that it almost has no authentic meaning left. Everyone from major brands to the mommy bloggers encourage us to use self-care, usually by partaking in one of their products that promises to bring us calm, peace, and mindfulness. Rarely do we get true serenity from a candle or a cookie, but the idea that we need to practice self-care still pushes us to do whatever we can to attain it. 

Self-care in its most basic form are things you do to take care of yourself. As working moms, we’ve become conditioned to do everything for others, so the idea that we should do something for ourselves can seem entirely selfish and foreign. But the practice of self-care for working moms is easier said than done. Besides, what is self-care anyway, if not a way to escape? 

Time and finances are often factors in any working mom’s decision to take time for herself

When we think of recharging using the self-care method, we often talk ourselves out of it because we don’t have the time or the money to take a spa day, or any other luxury image that’s become synonymous with self-care. And because the meaning of the term has become so trite, we often dismiss the practice entirely. 

In an effort to redefine self-care for the working mom, I’ve created a list of ways that we can all practice true love for ourselves, without sacrificing major amounts of time or money. These practices can be incorporated into your everyday life so you can easily take the time to reset your mind, body, and soul, and refill that empty cup.

1. Breathe 

I know I’m not inspiring a ton of confidence by starting with something so simple, but stay with me. 

There was a time in my life when a maternal mental breakdown sent me to the hospital for a week. In the midst of the chaotic moment, I began to have a panic attack as I contemplated what was really happening to me. 

The thing that saved me from completely melting down was breathing. In yoga, I’d learned to block out the rest of the world and simply count my breaths as I inhaled and exhaled, and when it mattered the most, I was able to use that practice to calm my entire body. 

In the middle of an intense day at work, when your coworkers are being difficult and the boss is being stubborn, or when your kids are all yelling and your partner is wanting your attention, simply take a moment to stop. 

Choose a place where you can be alone (when I’m home, that often means hiding in my closet) and sit down. Put a timer on your phone for five minutes. Close your eyes and breathe in to the count of six, and out to the count of six. Count out loud if you need to, to give yourself a noise to focus on. 

Give yourself permission to push all other thoughts away (after all, it’s just for five minutes) and just listen to your breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and focus on keeping your breath consistent. If you practice this often enough, the breathing will automatically kick in when you feel tense and stressed, like it did for me. 

Read more: I’m a mom influencer who earns up to $12,000 a month through paid sponsorships. Here’s how I grew my income and following while caring for my son.

2. Connect

This may be specific to extroverts like myself, but I’ve found that having a conversation helps me take a break from my stress and indulge in some informal talk therapy. 

Some of the best connections I’ve made have started online in a Facebook group for working moms. Instead of just using the platform to just vent (which is totally OK to do!) try using it to connect with other moms. I’ve asked for advice, or shared an interesting article, or even shared a photo of my kids and invited others to share as well. 

The great thing about being a member of a group for working moms is that they get what you’re going through. Everything you’re struggling with or take joy in, they likely do too. Connecting with other women in this way can help us make friends, which is definitely a part of taking care of ourselves.

3. Disconnect

Most days after taking care of my four kids and running my own business, I need time to disconnect. Instead of watching TV or scrolling through social media, I’ve established a form of self-care that truly helps me reset: silence. I sit on my couch and I don’t talk to anyone, and ask that my husband not talk to me, for one hour. 

Every working mom deserves time to reset your mind and rest your brain before bed. Make an arrangement with your partner and kids to take one hour to not talk to anyone and then choose an activity that brings you joy. 

Try to pick an activity that doesn’t overstimulate your brain, like listening to a podcast or reading a book, and give yourself permission to push everything else aside and enjoy it. If you can, hop in the bath and allow yourself to just melt away for an hour.

4. Sleep

I can see many of you rolling your eyes at this suggestion. How is sleep self-care if it’s also a part of simple human existence? But ask yourself: What quality of sleep are you getting? 

After eight hours at the office and four hours of homework, dinner, and bedtime routines, working moms often find themselves sprawled out on the couch, mindlessly watching TV or scrolling through social media before we drag ourselves into bed. We get to bed only to run through the mental load we carry, keeping us even later and often leaving us to fall asleep in an anxious manner. 

Try instead to give yourself the gift of true rest. Research shows that getting adequate sleep can help you have the energy to manage anxiety, and can increase the positive consolidation of thoughts and memories while we sleep that allows us to be in a sharper, better mood when we’re awake. 

Make a commitment to yourself that you will be in bed, sans screen, by 10 or 11 p.m. each night. If true self-care comes from taking care of ourselves, getting adequate sleep should be high on the priority list.

Read more: A CEO swears by carving out 2 ‘focus days’ a week where he doesn’t attend meetings. Here’s how he works them into his routine.

5. Permission and forgiveness 

As working moms, we carry so much on our minds and hearts. From our colleagues to our kids, we want everyone in our lives to feel taken care of and happy. Along with the need to make everyone else happy, is ultimately the feeling of guilt when we are unable to achieve this impossible task. 

Mommy guilt is a burden we all carry, but how it manifests in our lives is different for everyone. For me, I allowed the guilt to dictate my happiness. I never gave myself permission to be imperfect, or to allow others in my life to feel unsatisfied or disappointed, and my mental health began to deteriorate. 

In order to tackle any of the self-care items listed above, you need to allow yourself the time and space to do so. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself and be happy and healthy.

When you’re planning your day, you have the option to choose to do something for yourself. While doing things for your friends and family is generous and kind, you must also be kind and generous with yourself. 

This can be as simple as choosing to take a shower instead of cooking an extra time-consuming meal for your kids or partner. Give yourself permission to take 30 minutes to be alone, do something you need to do, and just be.

This often requires us to also forgive ourselves for whatever we feel like we’re failing at (which we are often not doing, but again, mommy guilt) and know that we’re doing the best we can. Forgive yourself for whatever negative thoughts you have and give yourself permission to be a human being with needs and the ability to be imperfect. 

Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or intricate. It can be as simple as doing things to maintain your emotional and mental health so you feel balanced in your everyday life. While treating yourself is definitely needed, true self-care is something we must do regularly to be able to give 100% to our family, friends, and coworkers. It’s a cliche but it’s also true: You can’t give from an empty cup. So fill yours up, and know it’s in the service of not just others, but also in the service of yourself. 

 

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